No Change for Fish

In Myrtle Beach, there is a big touristy open air mall called Broadway at the Beach. It has a lot of boardwalks over a pond, and there are these big creepy koi in it. At many places, there are little vending machines for fish food – drop in a quarter and get a handful of kibble to throw to the fish. They have also opened up a new section of the mall, and over the weekend we saw some stores that we had never seen before. One of them was a scrapbooking store.

The very first thing I saw when we approached the store was a big handlettered sign hanging in the center of the door. It said “NO CHANGE for fish!” That, my friends at the scrapbooking store, is what you call a tactical mistake. I don’t care about scrapbooking and wasn’t in any danger of browsing, but some day in the right situation and the right whim I might. However, if the first thing I encounter is a big sign in the negative, if the single most important thing for them to tell me is what they won’t do for me, who needs them? There are 200 other stores to browse. This is not at all uncommon. I see signs like this all the time, most commonly from mom and pop retailers that one presumes could use all the business they can drum up.

Suppose now you took the exactly opposite approach. What if you as the store manager keep a special section in the cash drawer with an extra $100 in quarters specifically earmarked for fish food change. You don’t cut into the operation of your business, when that runs out its out, but until then you happily make change for anyone that asks. In addition, you make up a one page sheet with information about scrapbooking, why you would do it, the store hours and phone number and website. When they ask for change, you give them the sheet. Then, you rip down the negative sign and put one up that says “Of course we have change for fish! Come on in!”

You’ve got a hook bringing people into your store that wouldn’t naturally set foot inside and you are blowing it. Don’t fight it, go with it. I’m amazed at small retailers that consistently blow their first impressions on trivia, on things that are irrelevant to customers or that actively discourage people from interacting with you. In a big box world, the thing you have to offer as a tiny story owner is that personal relationship. Don’t work so hard to avoid that.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father.

6 thoughts on “No Change for Fish”

  1. I cannot overstate how much I agree with this… small retailers can be utterly clueless about this kind of thing!

    A couple of other common/related mistakes I notice a lot: a) talk non-stop at new customers and follow them around making you seem desperate and needy (I’ll never pity-shop more than once), and b) standing in the doorway of your empty shop scowling and wondering why no one ever comes inside. I think this might be some kind of Greek/Italian thing which doesn’t translate well to other countries?

  2. Those fish are creepy. They’ve all got to be 40+ pounders. They just gang up on top of each other with their mouths oscillating in desperation for your kibble. If you feed them long enough in one spot, it just turns into a pile of fish with no water to be seen. The best part is when a clever duck will walk across them.

    You change idea is an excellent one. Sounds like you’ve got a good head for business and marketing!

    PS- If you feed the ducks at the Liberty Beer Garden, you’ll have friends for life.

  3. Wow almost forgot what this blog looks like. dave right on the money with this post. As a career marketer, I can say you are totally on target. Mom amd pop stores need to figure out how not to be a dinosaur, not put on the brontosaurus horns and jump into the tar pit.

  4. >Sounds like you’ve got a good head for business and marketing!

    When I read that, I found myself thinking, “Yes, he has the lobes for business…”

    Maybe that EGC logo should have a Ferengi in a trench coat.

  5. Thanks all. I don’t that it’s that I have a head for business or marketing per se, but that I do understand passion and evangelism and I recognize opportunities for that when I see it. Think too if this plan was implemented. At whatever success rate it has, that’s a market growing maneuver because the people brought in to the fold of the hobby weren’t already in it.

    When I was a teenager working at a comic shop in Augusta GA I had the radical idea of taking these then kind of new mini-series and putting them into one big bag and selling the whole series for a slightly reduced price off of the individual issues. It was kind of ghetto version of the trade collections of the present day. My boss was skeptical, but let me experiment. I talked him in to letting me putting them right up front in the store, near the counter. In the course of the first week or two, all of the ones I prepared sold.

    These were all things that we had lots of dead inventory of just taking up space, and by collecting them, cutting the price a little (like 10% off cover) and making them available they turned over and were flipped to cash. It just made sense to me, and it was like pulling teeth to get this implemented. Same as it ever was. Comics shops are in general way worse than this scrapbooking store in presenting a reasonable retail experience.

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